I know I just posted yesterday, but I can’t help it: I’m back. Because today, January 28th, is the memorial or feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, and I had to say something about him.
Please note: I’m not a philosopher or great reader of philosophy, and everything I say about this colossal man and mind is from a layperson’s point of view. If you really want to understand him, one entryway would be to watch one of Bishop Robert Barron‘s Youtube videos, beginning, maybe, with his Reflections on Thomas Aquinas.
I was first drawn to Thomas from a young adult biography that a local library was throwing out (the way I get a lot of my books). I wondered, after reading it, how could they toss out such a story? Fiction couldn’t create more drama: when Thomas wants to join the Dominicans, his brothers kidnap him from school and imprison him for an entire year. When finally allowed to study, he is so large, slow, and quiet, his classmates and professors call him–literally–a dumb ox. How can all us underdogs not feel for this figure? Then, in classic Ugly Duckling narrative pattern, when he does start to speak, he is so brilliant and so prolific that the Catholic Church came quickly to consider him its greatest theologian and philosopher.
What continues to attract me to St. Thomas is his role in my own faith life. If someone so learned spent so much of his life composing brilliant arguments for the existence of God, who am I to second guess? Of course I continue to have questions, doubts, irritations, but fundamentally, I love his point that every single thing on this earth is contingent, that is, couldn’t exist without being caused, at some point, no matter how far back, no matter HOW far back, by something else. And, that being the case, there has to be some thing which, no matter how far back, kicked off the whole process. Is itself not contingent upon anything. But simply is. Or, as God said to Moses when asked his name, “I Am Who I Am,”, “I Am Who Am.” Unlike us, God simply is. Is the essence of ‘isness.’
Do I understand that? In a feeble way, a balloon-of-argument-brushing-against-my-earthbound-mind-before floating-on-up kind of way.
What I appreciate from this is that for once (and for all, if I can hang onto Thomas’s kind of faith), I could hit the pause button on my interminable and exhausting mental circling, “what am I? what’s my purpose? what am I doing?” Because if there’s really only one thing that exists on its own, that provides, that IS, its own meaning, I can take a break from frantically trying to figure out, seek, impose, meaning on my own life. If Thomas’s God exists, and I dare you to try to argue (with Thomas) otherwise, we, each one of us, even me, have meaning already.
That takes a lot of pressure off my day.
P.S. You do know, don’t you, that Catholics don’t pray TO saints, ie confuse them with the divine. They ask saints to pray FOR them.